One memory from this time of year that’s still as crisp in detail as the night it happened was when I was eleven. That was more than thirty years ago, a time before cell phones or Taylor Swift. A time when I hadn’t yet left the magic of childhood.

My Uncle Charles picked me up several days before Christmas to buy a tree. It was our annual outing, just he and I. My family celebrated the holiday, but my parents didn’t care whether our tree was live or fake. In fact, I’m told we had a fake silver tree decorated with glossy red balls for the first few years of my life. I have no memory of that.

At some point, my uncle stepped in, insisting that we have a fresh-cut tree even if he had to foot the bill. And, he said, I was to be his yearly assistant; my Aunt Ruth was too busy to join us on our search for the perfect tree.

The year that’s so vivid has the late afternoon sky spitting snow when my uncle stopped by for me. I grew up in a suburban Bucks County neighborhood, but Uncle Charles wasn’t interested in buying a tree from one of the tree lots that sprang up at the area malls. He drove me out to the Springtown Holiday Tree Farm, which covered acres and acres of Pennsylvania countryside with Douglas fir lined up in neat rows. 

He and I shared a game each year: As we walked up and down the lanes of trees, we pretended we were judges, intent on selecting that season’s winner. Once we had our top three picks, the tree that ranked first was the one he bought. In addition, he always purchased a second tree for himself and Aunt Ruth, even if it wasn’t as lovely or full, even if it had a few less-than-perfect branches.

That year, with a light snow dusting our hair and shoulders, we cast our ballots. My favorite, and his, was a tree that stood a good head taller than my towering uncle. Without fail each year, we picked the identical tree as the “winner.” Looking back now, I think that my uncle only pretended to vote; he ultimately ceded the decision to me.

After paying for the two trees, he expertly sawed each down. I’ve always wondered at his skill with the saw. My father—his brother—had no affinity for sharp tools—or any tools, for that matter.

My uncle gently placed the trees in the back of his pickup and tied them down carefully so they wouldn’t be damaged on the journey home, a good forty-five minutes away.

By the time we were ready to head out, the snow had increased in intensity. Thick flakes now blanketed the fields, and the long farm drive had maybe three inches on it. 

I was nervous about the weather. My mother hated driving in snow, so I must have inherited that autonomic fear from her. 

“Don’t you worry, Elf,” my uncle said, using his nickname for me as he started down the drive toward the main road. “It’s just a little snow.”

But once we were on the two-lane highway, the snow worsened into a squall. Switching the wipers and defroster to high, my uncle slowed his speed to a crawl. It was difficult to see the road ahead, and the rear window was iced over. No one else seemed to be out, not even the plows. In that time before cell phones, we couldn’t call my parents to let them know we would be later than we’d hoped.

On one sharp curve, the tires on the truck slipped, and we skidded toward the edge of the road. The brakes were useless, and although my uncle tried, he could not keep the truck from sliding into the ditch.

He cursed softly, but immediately checked on me. We were both unharmed, yet the vehicle was mired in the snow. He fought his way out the driver’s side door to make sure the tailpipe wasn’t buried, and then turned the engine back on to keep us warm.

One hour became two, became three. Uncle Charles switched the engine off every so often. The slender self I was at eleven got cold even with the heater on intermittently, and Uncle Charles dug out a thick Carhartt coat from behind the seat to snuggle around me. He also discovered a few wrapped chocolates and a stale package of crackers in the glove box, and we shared that scant dinner.

While we waited, he told stories of his own childhood. I learned things about my father’s family no one had ever mentioned: Uncle Charles and Dad had had a sister who died of the measles at age three. My uncle thought the world of Dad, although Dad always seemed to resent him. 

Even in the darkness that surrounded us on that silent stretch of roadway, the cab was illuminated with a glow and a warmth I can’t explain. I must have drifted off.

When I awoke, I was riding in the jump seat of a tow truck. Uncle Charles was in the front seat with the driver. The pickup was trailing behind us as a tow. 

“Almost home, Elf,” my uncle said. He handed me a paper cup of hot chocolate. The snow had stopped, and the sky was lightening toward dawn. The plows had cleared the road, and we made good time.

My mother remembers it differently. She says that we were not stuck in the snow for nine hours, but only for about two. That I was home and in bed by midnight. That my uncle had more personal problems than I was told about at age eleven.

But I know what I recall: It was the night my uncle saved my life. Unfortunately, he passed away several days afterward, having succumbed to a bad case of the flu. 

And the tree we brought home? I still have a photo of it, ablaze with extra lights from Aunt Ruth, and glittering with tinsel and glossy cellophane candy canes. Decorated with love.

I take the photo out every year and prop it on my mantel. To remind me.

Read more of Dianna’s stories in the following anthologies:

Author Bio
Author Bio
Born and raised in the Midwest, Dianna has also lived in three other quadrants of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.
  • Dianna Sinovic, Featured Author

    Dianna writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.

  • Answer Me This

    The deck beckons you to turn over a card. The cryptic symbols on the backs intrigue you, but you aren’t sure you want to wade into the tarot just yet.

  • A Winter’s Tale

    One memory from this time of year that’s still as crisp in detail as the night it happened was when I was eleven. That was more than thirty years ago, a time before cell phones or Taylor Swift. A time when I hadn’t yet left the magic of childhood.

  • Detachment

    Leaves, leaves, and more leaves—the fall chore overwhelmed Kelsie each year, ever since she’d lost Tanner.

  • Turning Point

    The pumpkin foretold the event—the dare, the maze, the fire, all of it. If only Gregg had known to heed the warning of that orange jack-o’-lantern on the porch: The flickering slits for eyes, the leering mouth with mold grown over the gourd’s carved incisors. He’d laughed when he spotted it. So Julian.

×
Born and raised in the Midwest, Dianna has also lived in three other quadrants of the U.S. She writes short stories and poetry, and is working on a full-length novel about a young woman in search of her long-lost brother.
Latest Posts

Copyright ©2017 A Slice of Orange. All Rights Reserved. ~PROUDLY POWERED BY WORDPRESS ~ CREATED BY ISHYOBOY.COM

>